Sunday 5 October 2014 10:22 pm

Total Media’s Guy Sellers on the strengths of independent media agencies

In an age of unprecedented consolidation in the media world, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the smaller, independent agencies must be struggling to compete, clinging on for dear life amid a flurry of dealmaking by the industry’s giants. Outfits like Total Media, however, call this assumption into question. Its income grew by 14.6 per cent to £7.6m in 2013, with annual billings of around £59m. Chief executive Guy Sellers tells City A.M. how he’s pulled it off.
Are independent agencies like yours a dying breed?
Absolutely not. Of course, the giant networks are bound to say that. But our inquiry levels haven’t been so high in a long time. Earlier this year, we won Lenovo and Epson’s Europe, Middle East and Africa accounts, as well as the salad company Florette. These brands could easily have gone to a network agency, but they’ve specifically chosen an independent. It’s obviously not for everyone – we appeal to clients who are a bit more independent-minded, and if they’re looking for planning that’s more focused on their particular needs.
So consolidation in media isn’t an inexorable trend then?
I think we’ve probably seen the high water mark, and that was the failure of the Publicis-Omnicom merger. In the end, clients and people come ahead of the numbers. Beyond creating efficiencies and volume for the agencies, the benefits of being big aren’t always apparent to the client. 
We don’t have huge volume deals with media owners, so our clients get what’s right for them rather than what’s good for us. You’ve got to stand back and look at the behaviour of your clients’ customers. Doing what’s right for the client should come ahead of thinking about any big volume deals that you’ve committed to.
How inevitable is TV’s slippage from its current spot as the top advertising medium?
It will slip, but it’s reacting well. Sky AdSmart, for example, allows you to pinpoint audiences down to the post code level and track their viewing behaviour. It’s certainly not all over for TV, and it still performs extraordinarily well in certain roles. It builds extremely fast awareness for brands, and is the strongest way of doing that.
So innovation is coming to the rescue of TV?
To an extent. New technologies are turning what used to be a sledgehammer into a rapier, bringing much more precision. That can be extremely useful. But the same thing is happening with the growth of digital out-of-home – it’s becoming more controllable. The trick is to not get too hung up on the particular screen you’re watching things on. Consumers are far more screen-agnostic these days. 
Are the distinctions between different screens and channels becoming less relevant then?
I think so. That channel-focused view is probably felt most strongly by the specific industries now (TV, mobile, out-of-home), but not so much by the audience any more.